It’s that time again. The days are getting shorter and the air is getting colder. The leaves are beginning to change colors and delicately fall. We pull out our scarves and gloves and drink warm cider. To many, the change in season is received with a warm welcome and open arms. To others, they begin to settle into the knowledge that their least favorite season is among them.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that emerges during autumn and well through the winter months. Some commonly mistake SAD with the general feeling of laziness during the winter months as symptoms tend to include increased sleep, withdrawal from people and feeling chronically fatigued. SAD is not an a symptom of disliking winter and not to be confused with major depressive disorder — but rather a specific type of depression that comes around seasonally.
Though we do not know the cause of SAD, we do know there are some common factors. One reason why people are impacted by this condition has to do with the amount of sunlight emitted during the winter months. Sunlight plays an important role with our hormones and brain chemicals. The main chemical impacted by sunlight is serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that impacts anxiety, depression and happiness. As a result, sunlight has an impact on our mood levels, and when we are exposed to a decreases sunlight, our bodies and biological clocks face the consequences. Another factor to consider with SAD is genetics. Those with a family history of depression or mood disturbances are more susceptible to SAD.
Some ways to combat SAD are through physical exercise, structured actives and daily routines. Exercise naturally boosts mood and spending time with loved ones helps to keep us feeling connected to the world. Eating well and having a bedtime routine also helps our bodies maintain synchrony which helps to combat the negative effects of seasonal changes. Journaling, expressing yourself in artistic ways and light therapy are also healthy and adaptive ways to cope with the impacts of SAD. Fitting these into a routine can help us create the structure we need to cope with the season.
For those who are struggling to maintain their day to day actives and commitments, seeking professional help and medication is another option. A psychotherapist can support you in helping to identify thought patterns, emotions and how they impact your behavior. By identifying this, a psychotherapist can help you redirect these negative ways of thinking into more productive thoughts that leave you feeling more hopeful, relaxed and energetic. Medication such as anti-depressants can also be helpful for those prone to SAD or depression, especially when unable to carry out daily routines. These medications typically help to support your serotonin levels, however speaking with your doctor about your concerns and symptoms will help them identify the right medication for you. Medication can take time to work and it will be important to be in communication with your doctor about any changes or feelings you have when first taking this medication. Before you begin and end medication, always consult your doctor.
Recognizing that you are struggling with the changes in the season is an important first step to feeling better. Getting support from healthcare professionals and your family and friends will enable you with the tools you need to take on the season. Keeping a regular schedule with time for self-care will go a long way in aiding your symptoms. It will be important to speak up about how you are feeling when you are feeling down and extend kindness to yourself. Do not ignore your symptoms. Just because the weather is unpleasant doesn’t mean you have to feel that way too.